Virginia's 'Lake Tahoe of the East' Is One of the Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home in the U.S.

Set against the towering Blue Ridge Mountains, this scenic lake is often compared to Lake Tahoe and offers abundant recreational activities.

Virginia may be known for its charming small towns, many wineries, and historic landmarks, but the Old Dominion is also home to spectacular lakes that draw vacationers from near and far. Case in point: Smith Mountain Lake in central Virginia was recently named one of the best destinations to invest in a second home, according to Evolve, ranking higher than other more prominent locations such as Pocono Lake in Pennsylvania and Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks. 

Aerial view of homes on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia

Kelsey Johnson/Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Nicknamed the "Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains" and "Lake Tahoe of the East," the human-made Smith Mountain Lake boasts 500 miles of scenic shoreline and two dozen islands. It spans 40 miles, making it the second-largest body of water in Virginia, with excellent recreational opportunities year-round. Whether it's water sports, hiking, boating, swimming, fishing, or golfing, the destination is a magnet for travelers seeking outdoor adventures on and off the lake's clear waters. 

Boats on a dock at The Landing Restaurant on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia

Joel Mulbah/Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

"Smith Mountain lake makes you feel like you are home as soon as you get here," Brenda Fichtner Bratt, a realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate, told Travel + Leisure, noting that the local real estate market is still going strong despite the nationwide downturn. According to data from Evolve, the median listing price was $462,772, with homes reaching a cap rate of 5.1 percent. That, coupled with an estimated yearly rental revenue of $33,692, made the area one of the top-performing vacation rental markets in the country. 

People on a sailboat during sunset sailing around Smith Mountain Lake

John Henley/Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

"Homes, condos, and town houses are rented year-round because our area has very gentle seasons compared to our neighboring states," added Bratt. Another draw for second-home buyers? Taxes.

"The majority of my clients come from areas such as northern Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, New York, and other states with much higher [real estate] taxes. Considering our taxes and prices here, clients definitely get more 'bang for their buck' while enjoying lake life."

Aside from offering an endless variety of water activities, including ample fishing opportunities, the lake is bordered by Smith Mountain Lake State Park to the north, which covers 1,500 acres of beautiful shoreline, sandy beaches, hiking trails, picnic areas, and an amphitheater for special events. Golf enthusiasts have five courses at their disposal where they can practice their swing, including the Robert Trent Jones-designed Mariners Landing. There, golf facilities are complemented by tennis and pickleball courts, indoor and outdoor pools, children’s playgrounds, and fitness centers. 

A beach during sunset at Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Virginia

Chad Williams/Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

In fact, Bratt has noticed that her clients often focus their home searches on the areas surrounding the golf courses. 

"The Water's Edge, The Waterfront, and Mariners Landing are highly sought-after neighborhoods to [take in] the beautiful mountain and lake views while enjoying a good golf game. Tennis courts and community pools are also great options for family visits or working on your backhand golf swing," she said. 

Other popular second-home locations in the Smith Mountain Lake area include The Boardwalk, an elegant and perfectly landscaped New England-style community with mid-level and luxury lakefront homes featuring resort-style amenities; Waverly, a high-end waterfront neighborhood offering privacy and stunning lake views; and luxury Contentment Island, with homes usually in the millions. 

Towns such as North Shore and Penhook have seen more than a whopping 30 percent increase in home sale values year over year, and are also popular for their dining and entertainment options.

Homes on Smith Mountain Lake surrounded by colorful fall foliage

SML Tourism/Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

And while inventory in the Smith Mountain Lake area is scarce, according to Bratt, potential second-home buyers still have plenty of choices to find their dream lake abode.

She added, "Whether it's a cozy cottage situated on a quiet cove surrounded by trees, 30 minutes from the local grocery store, or a condo within walking distance to local music played on the weekends at your favorite sandwich shop, it's all here."

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